Race Weekend Central

The Critic’s Annex 47: Versus Coverage from Long Beach

by Phil Allaway

Hello, race fans, and welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, the weekly additional look at the race broadcasts that us fans like to watch. As I’ve mentioned previously, there were six major races last weekend alone. ARCA, Sprint Cup and the Nationwide Series were all in Talladega. Formula One was in Shanghai, China for what turned out to be an excellent race. Finally, the Tequila Patron American Le Mans Series and the Izod IndyCar Series (not to mention Firestone Indy Lights) were in Long Beach, California.

This week, I’ll be covering both the Firestone Indy Lights and the Izod IndyCar Series since it is (basically) one long broadcast.

Long Beach 100

Versus came on air at 11am local time with live coverage of the Firestone Indy Lights Long Beach 100. Kevin Lee, the pit reporter from last season, now serves as a de facto host of the coverage. He has been replaced as pit reporter by Jake Query. Mike King continues in his play-by-play role, but he has been joined by Willy T. Ribbs in the booth, while Wally Dallenbach, Jr. chimed in from time to time. An unusual choice, to be honest. I had only previously seen Ribbs do commentary once before. That was a Trans-Am race at Long Beach in 2002 for SPEED. I thought he was quite mellow on that telecast.

Ribbs seems to have a “relaxed style” in the booth. By that, I mean that he tends to speak a lot slower than most commentators that I’m used to hearing on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the relaxed style makes him come off as wooden. He does have the tendency to let out a good one-liner every once in a while. For example, in describing Esteban Guerrieri’s pole run, he exclaimed, “Esteban was the bomb!” However, for the most part, I found Ribbs’ commentary to be quite boring. Now, I expect Ribbs to improve as the season goes on as he gets used to being on television regularly. Gotta remember that he’s been away from racing in general for years.

Mike King seems to come from a radio background. As a result, he is generally easy to listen to. I have no real problems with his performance. However, I guess even Versus thought that Ribbs’ performance was somewhat substandard. Dallenbach was not even billed as a commentator for the broadcast, yet he came in and more or less took over Ribbs’ role for the second half of the race. If I were Ribbs, I would be embarrassed.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief. There were interviews with winner Conor Daly and Josef Newgarden, who stuffed his car in the tire wall with three laps to go while leading. There were also checks of the unofficial results and point standings before the coverage shifted into pre-race for the IndyCar race.

As I mentioned earlier, the main aspect of Firestone Indy Lights coverage to focus on this season will be the education of Ribbs in the broadcast booth. The conversationalist style can work in spots, but it just isn’t all that engaging for viewers. At other times, Ribbs has almost nothing to add, forcing King to kill time, or in this case, for Dallenbach to intervene. Also, I doubt that viewers can really learn much off of Ribbs’ commentary, which is one of the main roles of an analyst. It also should be noted that other viewers have similar opinions of Ribbs in the booth.

As it stands, Ribbs’ performance is bringing down the overall quality of Firestone Indy Lights broadcasts. Its still too early to write off Ribbs, but its not looking too good right now.

Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

The IndyCar coverage began with a quick ProfessorB segment on repainting race cars. Its a labor intensive and apparently quite expensive process. Before a new scheme is applied, the entire car must be sanded down by hand (paint removal products cannot be used because of the carbon fiber). Then, the pain is applied in a single layer, followed by one clear coat layer. As a result, everything is seamless. Wally did another segment as a passenger in the Izod 2-Seater, this time with Al Unser, Jr. behind the wheel.

The main feature in the pre-race programming was a conversation with Ryan Hunter-Reay, the defending champion of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. To Hunter-Reay, Long Beach is important because of how many major events in his life have revolved around the race weekend. He described how his mother basically hooked him up with his now-fiancé in a restaurant there in 2008 thanks to an overcrowding instance. He got engaged a year later there, and won last year after his mother died from colon cancer. It was an interesting look at Hunter-Reay, who is one of the top drivers in the series.

IndyCar Central also brought on seven driver interviews with people as varied as Scott Dixon and Paul Tracy. And, since it was Long Beach, there were also highlights of the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, the annual ten-lap race featuring a smattering of professional drivers taking on celebrities in identically prepared Scion tC’s. William Fitchner from Prison Break won the race.

In the race itself, there really wasn’t all that much action up front. Because of that, Versus decided to pan back through the field and show viewers some action back in the pack. That was good to see.

Versus managed to catch the vast majority of everything that happened in the race, but they did miss a couple of things. First off, they never managed to show us a replay of what happened to cause Simona de Silvestro to spin exiting Turn 11. That spin brought out the first caution. Robin Miller came on after the restart and said (in his typical style that viewers of Wind Tunnel are used to) that Tracy spun her out and got penalized for it.

Under that caution, they also missed an incident in which one of Oriol Servia’s crewmembers was struck by the No. 38 of Graham Rahal, injuring the man’s ankle. It appeared that contact with Vitor Meira caused Rahal to enter Servia’s pit. Luckily, there were no serious injuries.

However, Versus did catch the pit road crash involving Sebastien Bourdais and Marco Andretti. Andretti turned his car to the left to avoid Justin Wilson. Unfortunately, Bourdais was there and both cars ended up in the wall and out of the race. They also caught some salty language over the radio from Bourdais. Yes, the F-bombs were flying and it was pretty obvious that the Frenchman was not pleased. Jenkins apologized for the F-bombs (which I still maintain is not necessary) from Bourdais, but did not apologize for another series of profanities from what appeared to be members of Andretti’s crew. They believed that the No. 26 could be fixed, so they were imploring Andretti to get back in the car.

Towards the end of the race, Versus was a little slow in providing replays of incidents. However, a pass can be given in that instance because about four or five incidents all happened within about eight laps.

Despite the fact that the race ended within two or three minutes of the scheduled end of the telecast, Versus still provided a good amount of post-race coverage. In addition to the standard checks of the unofficial results and point standings, there were also ten post-race interviews and some post-race analysis before Versus left the air. As a result, the telecast ended 20 minutes after it was supposed to.

All in all, the telecast was not all that bad to watch. Races at Long Beach tend to be relatively short on action, except for a couple of short stretches. Sunday’s race played to that script, more or less.

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